Posts Tagged ‘criminal defense attorney’

Tips for Arraignments: Surviving the First Court Appearance from DUI to Murder 1st

Let’s face it, when people generally look for an attorney, they are looking for an attorney to really shine when it comes to the trial or maybe at a motions hearing.  You don’t really hear people say that you should hire so-and-so because they are “really good at arraignments.”   Yet, I have found arraignments to be very important to clients for the following reasons: 1) Defendants sometimes appear for an arraignment before hiring or speaking with a criminal defense attorney,  2) The arraignment is often the client’s very first appearance in court, and 3) The arraignment can often be intimidating because it is often on a crowded docket day, when many people are watching.

Arraignment on DUI Charge: Although you might suspect the arraignment of a major felony to be the most complicated, arraignments on DUI charges are often the most complex.   While some arraignments can be waived by counsel, a DUI charge typically requires that the defendant appear in person to have conditions of release set.   Like any charge, an arraignment on a DUI charge involves a formal plea of “guilty” or “not guilty”.   Because a plea of “guilty” requires a lengthy plea form, such a plea would likely be set off to a future date.  The court at DUI arraignments will set certain conditions of release if they have not been already set.  The court will typically prohibit a defendant from consuming alcohol or drugs without a prescription.  Additionally a court will often forbid a DUI defendant from being present in any location where alcohol is served for consumption on the premises.   This largely restricts a person’s ability to go out to eat, because a lot of restaurants in the small towns in Stevens, Ferry or Okanogan County have class H liquor licenses.

Arraignment of Drug Cases: On misdemeanor drug cases, an arraignment can often be waived if a person has hired a defense lawyer and the lawyer files a notice of appearance.  In the courts of Ferry County, Stevens County, and Pend Orielle County, you see the growing practice of courts requiring pre-trial UA tests.  I believe that public funding has become available so that if a person is indigent, the county will pay for the testing.  The idea of pre-trial UA tests is obviously preferable to being held in jail prior to trial, but it is usually not a popular requirement.   The UA’s typically can detect marijuana use within a few weeks and alcohol use for about three days.   Typically, when a person signs up for the UA tests, they are assigned a specific color code.  The person is then ordered to call in by a specific time to see if their color has been chosen for that day.  If it has, the individual must appear for the test by a certain time later that same day.  This responsibility can be problematic because if a person lives in a remote location of  Okanogan County or Stevens County, for example, they may live an hour or more from the testing facility.  They would unexpectedly need a ride to court.  In certain cases, a person may test positive for marijuana due to use of the drug prior to arrest.  Additionally, a person may test positive for opiates due to use of prescription drugs of hydrocodone or oxycontin for example.  A copy of a valid current prescription must be kept at hand.

Arraignment on Violent Offenses:

Arraignment on a violent offense is procedurally much like arraignments on DUI or drug offenses.  For all felony charges, the court will ask the defendant to sign an advice of rights form acknowledging that they understand their constitutional rights.  During the arraignment it is important that no statements are made that could be self-incriminating.  It is the natural human reaction to explain one’s actions.  However, the arraignment is not the occasion for the court to determine the accuracy of the charges.   This idea can often be confusing for a defendant, because the prosecuting attorney will likely summarize or paraphrase the police reports in an attempt to secure a high bail.  And the defense attorney will often attempt to argue the weaknesses of the State’s case based on the limited information available.  However, this dialogue is much different than a defendant attempting to make a first person explanation so as to counter the allegation at hand.  Such statements by the defendant could be used in court at a subsequent jury trial, and often times the judge will interrupt the defendant if he or she attempts to explain the incident that forms the basis of the charge.  Unlike arraignments for DUI or many drug offenses, the court will often impose bail as a condition of release on such violent offenses as assault, robbery, or sex offenses.  Under the Washington State Constitution, the judge cannot hold a defendant without bail on any offense other than capitol offenses.

So if you are interested in exactly how a Superior Court arraignment will go, it usually goes pretty much like this:

Step 1:  The judge calls the case title “State v. Smith”, for example, and then recites the court case number, before inviting the defense attorney and his or client to approach counsel table.

Step 2: The judge will ask the defense attorney if he or she has gone over the advice of rights form with his or her client, and if the defense lawyer believes that the defendant understands the rights.  The prosecution often signs the form before the defense lawyer approaches the bench with the form.

Step 3:  The judge will ask the defense lawyer if the defendant “waives reading” of the “information” which is the court term for the criminal complaint or charging document.   The accused person has a right to have the charges read to them verbatim under the Constitution.

Step 4:  Once the defendant waives reading, the judge will ask the defendant to stand and will ask for example: “To the charge in count one, possession of marijuana, how do you plead? Guilty or not-guilty?”  The defendant responds.  The judge then asks: “To the charge in count two, possession of cocaine, how do you plead?”  Etc.  Sometimes, the only speaking a defendant will do at an arraignment is to say “yes” that he understands his rights, and to say “not guilty” once the charge is read.

Step 5:  The judge will then hear argument as to the conditions of release to be set.  The judge will hear from both lawyers, and then ask the defendant if he or she agrees to abide by those rules.

Step 6:  The judge will often sign a scheduling order providing for the court dates to come.  The judge will set a date for an “omnibus hearing”, a “status hearing” or a “pre-trial hearing” and a jury trial.  An omnibus hearing is the date for the prosecutor and the criminal defense attorney to declare what evidence they intend to use, what witnesses they intend to call, and what defense will be offered.  Sometimes a defendant will not need to appear for an omnibus hearing.  This is a good point to clarify at the arraignment.  A status hearing or a pretrial hearing is a date to confirm the readiness of the parties for trial, and this hearing can go by many different names.   Often times, a client will ask me what the purpose of a particular hearing is, and the short answer is often “that this is a court date to talk about future court dates.”  That might sound a little silly, but that is our court system for better or for worse.  The last thing I will say about the scheduling order is that a defendant should bring his or her calendar.  If they are unavailable for court due to a surgery or a final exam for example, they should make that known at arraignment, because rescheduling it later can be difficult for the defense lawyer to do.

There are not any video arraignments of Washington Courts that I could find, but below is an arraignment on a murder case off of youtube.

Security Cameras Pose New Challenge to Robbery Suspects

The expense of high quality video surveillance equipment has plummeted, and many businesses are installing sophisticated  systems into their businesses.  This is posing a challenge to robbery and burglary suspects.  It seems like you cannot watch the news or go online without seeing photos or video footage of these guys caught in the act.

This youth apparently covered his head with his T-shirt before being caught by a security camera

This youth apparently covered his head with his T-shirt before being caught by a security camera

But burglary and robbery suspects are finding new ways to cover their faces when they are on the job.  I saw this photo to the left in the Olympian online yesterday that the police released with the hope of identifying him.  For the latest Eastern Washington crime/court news, I visit the blog Sirens & Gavels.  The stories in this blog by Meghann Cuniff usually include surveillance photos.  I read the Spokesman-Review in print, but I check their online site for the audio/video content.

This photo depicts Terran D. Schatz, who plead guilt to second degree robbery

This photo depicts Terran D. Schatz, who plead guilt to second degree robbery. Schatz was an Iraq war veteran who apparently became addicted to oxycontin

I follow all the local oxycontin robberies, and have blogged about this in the past, see earlier post.  The pattern that many of these robbers fit, is to try to cover as much of their face as possible without it seeming too suspicious.  Obviously if a person walks into a pharmacy or business with a bandanna over their face then that will alert everyone as to their intentions.  In my experience as a criminal defense attorney, some suspects keep these robberies as low-key as possible, simply presenting their demand to the counter in the form of a note.  In Meghann Cuniff’s blog today,  she posted surveillance footage of a failed armed robbery attempt by a man who allegedly walked into a pharmacy in Hayden with a gun to attempt to get oxycontin.   The suspect left empty-handed because the pharmacy avoids keeping it in stock due to the rash of such robberies.  Notice the suspect’s mannerisms as he walks into the store.  He clearly is aware of the presence of the security camera, and would have likely visited the store in advance to observe the placement.   The suspect casually covers his face with his hand, as if to suppress a cough, but drops his hand down after he passes the camera.   His head is covered with a hood and hat.

Such surveillance videos pose a challenge to the investigator and attorneys handling such cases.  The equipment is difficult to operate, and often times a store owner is not aware of how to duplicate the recording for the police.  In metropolitan areas, specialized robbery or major crimes detectives are well practiced at handling such equipment, but in our more rural counties deputy sheriffs often struggle.  As a defense attorney, I have dealt with armed robbery allegations cases where the video was replayed by the police to see, but was never copied for court or made available to the jury.   Often times, when a copy is made the file is “compressed” reducing the quality of the video footage.  “Compression” is the process by which a larger data file is reduced in size to more easily fit on a disk or flash drive.  Video quality varies from camera to camera, but unlike on TV, it is rare that the video can be significantly enhanced.  When I defended an armed robbery allegation in Okanogan County, I worked with an expert who used Photoflair to try to enhance the image, but it was not very successful.   Photoflair has been used in a lot of high profile cases, and can be helpful, but it is not like on CSI.   In the future, the police will not necessarily need to post the photo of a robbery suspect to solve the crime.  Face recognition software already exists and came on my MacBook when I bought it.  When I add photographs from my camera to my computer, the program recognizes the subjects of the photos and tags the photos accordingly.  It is possible that someday the police could match a photo of a robbery suspect with other photographs the suspect has posted on social networking sites.

Having defended such cases and worked with oxycontin addicts, I grow frustrated with the manufacturer of oxycontin, Purdue Pharma.   As I wrote in an earlier post, pharmaceutical company Purdue-Pharma invented and mass-marketed oxycontin.  The company agreed that it committed a felony when it marketed oxycontin and hid how unsafe it was.  The company faced 600 million in fines after it plead guilty, but the executives never went to jail.  The company encouraged doctors to prescribe it not just to dying cancer patients, but to people with even moderate pain.   Many addicts were thus created.  According to a story in the New York Times, “…Purdue Pharma contended that OxyContin, because of its time-release formulation, posed a lower threat of abuse and addiction to patients than do traditional, shorter-acting painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin.”  Less addictive then vicodin (i.e. hydrocodone)?  Now that really makes me chuckle.   Remember the above video of the robbery suspect who tried to rob the pharmacy but they did not stock oxycontin?  He left empty handed.  He didn’t ask for percocet or vicodin as an alternative.  He knows there is no substitute or no pharmacy drug like oxycontin.  It’s only equivalent is heroin.

The DEA has cut back on prescriptions for oxycontin, but you really can’t put the genie back in the bottle.  Addicts will rob pharmacies rather then suffer the agony of withdrawal.  Further steps are needed to limit oxycontin’s use.

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Photo of Steve Graham Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer who works in eastern Washington, including Spokane, Grant, Ferry, Stevens, Lincoln, and Okanogan, and Whitman counties. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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